The world has truly lost a great man this week. I sit here at my kitchen table and stare at this computer screen wondering how I can tell our loyal TheArnoldFans readers that Ben Davidson has passed away. Would I write about how the great Rexor has passed? Would I start it by saying what a fine defensive end he was with the Oakland Raiders? I can’t start it any of those ways, because Ben was first and foremost my friend. For all of you that have been reading my Conan articles since 2003, you know me as CromisGod. You have watched me refer to Ben in articles as Rexor. Today, I am Rick Henriques….friend of Ben Davidson, the kindest giant that you would ever meet.
I first met Ben in 2002 when I drove to Niagara Falls to see him at an autograph show. We talked for some time about Conan and he was impressed with my knowledge and amount of items for him to sign. I waited around at the show for him to finish and he talked to me for another hour or so. I remember being impressed by his size, his ability to be humble and his love for making the film. I walked away that day as a bigger fan than I already was.
Ben and I had a few other chance meetings in the years that followed. I interviewed him for TheArnoldFans many times and met him at a few more autograph conventions. One of which I gave him a gift of a matching set of Conan art, that I can proudly say hung in his den until this day. Then about four years ago I met him again in person through Rick Voris & Brian Burke of Pro Player Promotions and we hung out for an entire weekend at the Chiller Theatre Convention. This is where our friendship began to grow more into friends rather than a Conan fan. Ben was a true gentleman to his Conan fans that weekend and they came by in droves to meet him.
In 2010, when I was thinking of going to the San Diego Comic Con I struggled to find a hotel. I contacted Ben to see if he knew any hotel owners (being a longtime San Diego) resident, but Ben insisted that I stay with him and his wife Kathy and be their guest for the long weekend. I was floored by his hospitality and kindness. I stayed with Ben and Kathy the whole week. We had an amazing time. We laughed, he told me stories about how he wooed Kathy 50 years ago and that they were still going strong. I got the chance to meet his daughter and granddaughter that weekend. We drove to Burbank, CA so that Ben could see Sandahl for the first time in 30 years. Ben, Randy Jennings and I talked the entire 3 hour drive. Sandahl and Ben had a classic heart felt reunion. It was priceless.
Upon hearing of Ben passing yesterday I called Sandahl Bergman in California. She had already heard the news and was shaken by it. She had hoped to possibly meet up with Ben next week at SDCC since she will be appearing there on Saturday. She gave me the following statement of his passing – “You know, I met Ben for the first time on the set of Conan and he was such a huge man. Tall and built. You know what though? He truly was a gentle giant. It really is a shame and he is going to be missed”. I talked to Sandahl for an hour about life, Ben, John Milius and taking hold of life while it was still here. That’s what Ben did.
I had never met a man that had been more places, done more things and had more life experience. Ben and Kathy lived life to the fullest and traveled the world. He had a story for me from every part of the globe. Whether he was just traveling for fun or for work he was soaking in the world. Ben once told me that he and his very good friend Tom Keating (also played with the Raiders) would drive their motorcycles to the football field on the last game of the season. After the game was over they would just hop on and ride. Ride east, west, north, south…it didn’t matter. Ben wanted to take the world by the throat and make it give him what he desired. He did and was truly a man that had seen the world.
Ben once traveled to Connecticut for a truly special moment in my life. When I was planning my wedding last year I wanted Ben & Kathy to be there. I sent them an invite and they responded with a YES. They came all the way to my home state to spend this special day with me and my wife Michelle. Ben was the “A” list guest. I joked with him after that he took more pictures with people at my wedding than I did. We laughed, we all danced and people that were at his table told me he was the life of the party. That was the last time I would see Ben in person. I hugged him and Kathy before they left and he said to me “Kathy and I have been together for 50 years, I wish you the same great 50 years that we’ve had”. Earlier in the night I had the photographer take what would be the last photo of Ben and I.
Wherever you went people had wonderful things to say about this man. In his passing he has been remembered by all that he has touched. Rick Voris of Pro Player Promotions released a statement on behalf of his company, Brian Burke and their families: “Pro Player Promotions has lost a dear friend today with the passing of Ben Davidson. He was in all sense of the word a true GENTLEMAN! We will cherish every memory we shared with him and he will never be forgotten. Our condolences to Kathy and his girls our prayers are with you.”
TheArnoldFans reached out to Ben Davidson’s on screen partner, Sven Ole Thorson, who played Thorgrim. Sven was shocked to learn from us that his costar had passed away: “Oh my god, I’m sorry to hear. How sad is that? I had a chance to talk with him on the phone when you put me together with him but I never had a chance to hook up. I’m sorry to hear that. When I met Ben for the first time, it was in Madrid when we were prepping Conan and when he arrived, he just came from America. I knew him as a spokesman doing commercials for Miller Lite and he had a beard and a deep baritone voice. Then when he became the character, and I worked with him for six months, I found that I had really worked with a true gentleman who had a long, long career in football and probably one of the longest careers without getting hurt. For example, when we did the scene on the steps of the Thulsa Doom temple, where there were 3,000 hired gypsies to be the Thulsa Doom followers, there was a scene where he tripped, and stumbled down he was able to land on his feet like it was nothing! I was so impressed by it. For a big guy to be that agile to watch was fantastic but my impression of him was he was a true gentlemen. Doing the whole shoot, I never saw him loose his cool. I thought for the first time, I met a true American gentleman.”
As I reflect back on Ben, I’d like to think about all these good times. I’d like to think about the drive to Burbank. I’d like to think about his boisterous, one of a kind laugh. I’d like to think about sitting around a dinner table last year in St. Louis with Rick, Brian, Ben and Sandahl and how we closed that restaurant down because we were there so late laughing and drinking. I will think about the last time I saw him at my wedding and how even though he knew he was sick, he was still as joyous and filled with life as ever. Ben Davidson was more to me than Rexor. He was more than #83 for the Oakland Raiders. In Ben’s death, he will always represent life in my eyes. A man of the world. A man of family and tradition. A man that opened his home to me and let me drink it every piece of advice he had to offer. I will remember him strong, bright eyed, selfless and gentle. I sit here typing with tears filling my eyes and streaming down one side of my face because my friend is gone, but I will do everything in my power to keep his spirit alive. To keep what he stood for and how he treated people, alive.
My name is Rick Henriques and Ben Davidson was my friend. He holds a very special place in my heart and always will. Travel well my friend. Someday I will see you again. You can tell me stories of what it has been like on the other side as you laugh and twirl your mustache.